Sunday, 30 September 2007

A Visit to Creemore Farmers' Market

It just so happened that I found myself in Creemore on Saturday morning, where there is a farmers' market in the parking lot of the Station on the Green. Again, this is winding down for the season; next Saturday is the last market of the year apart from a one-off Christmas market on December 1st.

Creemore is an artisty, touristy town. The Station on the Green is off the main street, through a nicely landscaped little parkette, although it's got as nasty a piece of grim public sculpture as you are likely to see anywhere. Pity.

The market itself was... interesting. I'm not sure why I found it so peculiar. It wasn't huge, but it seemed to have a reasonable range of products. I think I was just a little unnerved by the fact that almost everyone seemed to have preserves of some kind, as well as handicrafts of a very lower-middlebrow nature, which was a bit odd given how arty Creemore is.

And baked goods. Actually, this smocking was one of the nicer craft offerings. But see, preserves.

One much-appreciated touch was the Community Coffee Booth. Profits were going to the local tree planting committee, at least on the day I was there.

Here's a couple of unusual items: ground cherries (actually a tomato relative, but sweet) and "pregnant onions" - neither pregnant nor onions, of course. Did they have preserves? They did have some rather charming wooden doll-house furniture.

Pumpkins, beets... crocheting and... preserves. Hmm.

Now here was a lovely little oasis. I had some of Angie's jerk chicken with rice and peas for lunch and went around in a happy peppery glow for at least a half hour afterwards. Very yummy.

The New Farm, purveyors of a good range of organic vegetables and eggs.

We're still in apple country; only one apple stand at this point, but with a very broad selection of varieties.

Another booth with veggies, quilting, teddy bears and preserves.

Okay; the jackpot (trifecta? hat trick?) Baking, sewing AND preserves. Actually, George Street Goodies had a very nice looking selection of preserves as well as their own line of herbal cosmetic products.

And just in case the jerk chicken proves to be a little spicy, you can wash it down with some freshly made lemonade.

A Visit to Meaford Farmers' Market

We were at the Meaford Farmers' Market on the second-last day it is to be held this summer. (October 5th will be the last day.) Which was a pity, because it looked like it was an excellent little market. If I understand correctly - it's a little hard to believe, it looks so polished and well rounded - this was the first year of operation for the Meaford Farmers' Market. It looked like it was a roaring success, and I am sure it will be back next year.

We were there on a rather strange Friday afternoon - the market ran from 3 to 8 pm on Fridays - and we passed our time a bit nervous that the sky would open and pour rain on us at any moment even though we were in brilliant sunshine. It didn't, although the sky remained rather dramatic throughout our visit.

For a brand-new market, Meaford had an impressive and unusual array of vendors, including Stoneyfield Elk Farm. The owners of Stoneyfield will soon be opening a small shop, "The 100 Mile Market", which will sell produce from a number of the vendors at the Meaford Farmers' Market throughout the winter; contact them for more information.

I was quite astonished to see a stand selling freshly pressed oils from flax seed, pumpkin seeds, etc. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to look too closely at this stand, but this is the first time I have seen Ontario artisanal oils available. You can check them out at Oil Mill Farm for more information.

There were several bakers at the market. I can vouch for the brownies and lemon squares sold here... very good!

There were fewer fruit vendors than I would have expected; but many of the orchards in the Beaver Valley have their own fruit stands or even small shops on site. The beaver valley is famous for its' apples, but they have pears and plums as well; and cherries if I had been there earlier in the year.

There is plainly a lot of interest in organic produce around the Meaford area. One organic vendor was Twin Creeks Farm, where I was able to pick up an Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage, to my intense excitement - it's the first time I have seen one.

The other organic farm that I saw was Niagara Escarpment Organics, who in addition to their own produce had a selection of locally grown grains, including puffed cereals. Wow! First time I've seen that, too!

Will the treasures never end? How about some freshly baked bread from Monckton Organic Farms and Bakery, made with their own flours and honey?

Not organic, but well done for snacking on the spot or during an evening in front of the telly, Ella Marie's Kettle Korn provides a bit of entertainment while you wait. Freshly popped corn is dusted with just a little sugar and salt for very compelling munching.

Highway 26 outside of Meaford, as well as other highways in the area are also full of little markets on site at the orchards for which the Beaver Valley is famous; Almonds' is one,

and Goldsmith's is another. Most of them have a range of products besides their own fresh local apples.

A Visit to Wahta Mohawks - Iroquois Cranberry Growers

On our little camping trip, we headed up to Awenda Provincial Park. We decided to take a field trip to Iroquois Cranberry Growers, just outside of Bala. As it turned out, we were there just a day or two before harvest started.

NOTE: Bala will be having a Cranberry Festival on October 12, 13, and 14 - an excellent time to go and have fun, as well as stock up for yourself. Bala is home to Ontario's only two commercial cranberry farms. NOTE AGAIN: there are actually 3; one is just outside of Ottawa. See comments.

Wahta Mohawk trail guideThe cranberries are grown on quite a large farm, and there are trails one can walk on in addition to the roads through the bogs.

Wahta Mohawk cranberry storeThe store is an easily-accessible little building just off Highway 69 (Highway 400).

Inside the Wahta Mohawk cranberry storeI think if it's possible to do it with cranberries, they've done it. The mainstays though, I would think, are dried cranberries and pure cranberry juice. Prices are favourable compared to the mass-market retail brands, provided you stock up a bit. If you are a cranberry aficionado it is well worth it.

Checking out at the Wahta Mohawk cranberry storeWe bought a case of pure cranberry juice and 25 pounds of sweetened dried cranberries.

Overlooking the bogs at the Wahta Mohawk cranberry storeThe cranberry farm (bog) is directly behind the store. It's a long, skinny farm, snaking through the floodplain of a small river or stream. It isn't spectacularly wide, but it goes back a long way.

Wahta Mohawk cranberry bogWe walked through the farm. Those dusty, sandy Muskoka roads took me right back to my childhood, when we spent what seemed like endless summers at the cottage.

Road through the Wahta Mohawk cranberry bogAfter walking for several minutes, we came to a cross-road. The bog continued on in two different directions.

Pumphouse in the Wahta Mohawk cranberry bogTo harvest the berries, the bogs are flooded, the cranberries are knocked loose, and they are corralled from the surface, as they float like little boats.

Ripe cranberries ready to harvestRipe cranberries ready for harvest.

The start of the cranberry sorting processWe walked up to the processing shed. Although we were too early to watch the harvest, it looked like they were in the middle of doing a test run on the sorting machinery.

Cranberry sorting in processIt looked like quite the state-of-the-art contraption.

Cranberry sortingUp, up they go and into the shed.

Inside the cranberry sorting plantWhere, alas, very little was happening, apart from the fact that 2 men had the panels off and their heads stuck into the guts of the machinery. It is a fact not much publicized to the urban public, but it seems to me that if you want to be a farmer, you need to be a more than passable mechanic first!

A worker at the cranberry sorting plantWe chatted a bit with this lady; one of several workers hanging about waiting for the machine to be started.

Pure cranberry juice and sweetened dried cranberries from Iroquois Cranberry GrowersAs mentioned, we bought lots of dried sweetened cranberries and a case of pure juice. Should keep us for a little while... expect to see some cranberry recipes coming up soon!

Canning Tomato Ketchup or Catsup

Homemade ketchup or catsup is a very different animal than the stuff that comes in a plastic squeeze bottle. It's richer and spicier, and much less sweet; at least mine is. It's even more work than salsa, as it requires a lot of cooking even though I use the same technique of salting and straining to remove a lot of liquid and keep the cooking time down to a manageable level.

Chopping garlic and shallots for ketchupAs with the salsa, the tomatoes are blanched, peeled, chopped, salted and strained. Then the remaining vegetables are prepared.

Start by heating all the chopped ingredientsThe ingredients are roughly puréed, then cooked until soft.

When the ketchup has cooked for a little bit, it is then strainedAt that point, the purée is ladled out of the first pot and strained through a food mill into a second pot, in order to produce a smoother texture and remove most of the seeds.

Straining the ketchupUsing the food mill to strain the purée. The seeds and any tough bits get discarded.

Why I don't make ketchup every yearAnd here's why I don't make ketchup every year. It's not just the long cooking, it's the mess. It needs to be cooked down, and as it gets thick it starts to splatter! It's a good idea to wear oven mitts and a good heavy apron towards the end of the process.

4 or 5 500ml jars
8 to 12 hours - 3 to 3 1/2 hours working time

8 quarts roma tomatoes
pickling salt
3 red shepherd peppers or other mild red peppers
2 cups peeled minced shallots
1 head garlic
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup Sucanat
1 tablespoon celery seed
4 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon hot Spanish paprika
1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons allspice berries

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the tomatoes by dropping them in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. You will need to do them in batches. Transfer the tomatoes to a sink or tub filled with cold water.

Peel the tomatoes, and chop them coarsely. If you can remove many of the seeds while you do this, so much the better. Layer the tomatoes in a large strainer - such as comes in a set for cooking spaghetti - with the salt. I try to use about 4 tablespoons, but a bit more is okay. Much of it will run out with the water. Let the tomatoes drain for several hours to overnight, in a cool spot (but not in the fridge.) Don't forget to keep them a little raised from the bottom of whatever pot you strain them into, so they are not sitting in their own water. Ideally, do this the night before you plan to proceed.

Meanwhile, deseed and mince the peppers. Peel and mince the shallots and garlic. Put them in the preserving kettle with 1 cup of the vinegar. Add the drained tomatoes when you have strained them for as long as you can stand. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Press the mixture through a fairly fine food mill. Discard any seeds and skins that will not go through. You will likely need to stop and clean the mill once or twice during the process. Return the pulp to the stove, and add the remaining vinegar, and the Sucanat.

Grind the celery seed to a powder, and mix it into the ketchup with the two paprikas and the ginger. The peppercorns and allspice should be tied up in cheesecloth, or put in a very large tea-ball and added to the ketchup. Boil the ketchup, stirring frequently, until considerably reduced in volume and very thick. Expect this to take about 2 hours.

About 45 minutes before you expect the ketchup to be thick enough to bottle, put the canning jars into a large canner with water to cover them by one inch at least, and bring to a boil. Boil the jars for 10 minutes. If your water is very hard, add a shot of vinegar to the water to prevent lime build-up on the jars.

When the ketchup is thick, test it and adjust the salt and seasonings if necessary. Remove the black peppercorns and allspice, and discard them.

Fill the jars with the ketchup to within 1 cm of the rims. Seal with lids and rims which have been boiled for 5 minutes. Return the jars of ketchup to the boiling water bath and boil for 10 minutes.

Remove them from the canner, allow to cool, check the seals, label and store. Keep in the fridge once opened.

Canning Salsa

Canning salsa is a lot of work, no question about it. However, the results are excellent, and I love being able to dig into a bowl of summery salsa in the middle of the winter.

An awful lot of recipes for canned salsa call for vinegar. However, in my opinion, if there is vinegar in a salsa, it isn't salsa any more, it's something else. This recipe calls for lime juice instead, which is a traditional ingredient in salsas, and which provides the necessary acidity for canning. Also for reasons of maintaining a safe level of acidity, do not change the proportions of the vegetables. In particular, if you find the Jalapeños do not provide enough heat, replace them with hotter peppers, not more. Jalapeños admittedly may vary considerably in heat, and they do lose some in processing; something to keep in mind.

I roughly chop and salt the tomatoes, and leave them to strain in a cool (not cold) place for several hours to overnight. This removes a lot of liquid, leaving a thicker, less soupy salsa.

While the tomatoes are straining, prepare the other ingredients.

Don't chop your peppers like this - without wearing gloves! My canning partner was very sorry for a few days afterwards, with painfully burning hands. Get organized and buy some gloves. They really are a necessity. Note added: I've found the best way to remove chile oils from the hands is to wash them with a generous quantity of toothpaste.The sooner the better; don't give those oils time to soak in. If you even think you've got chile oils on your hands, you should go and wash them at once.

Once the salsa is prepared, it is heated to the boiling point and packed in hot, sterilized jars.

It's then sealed and processed in boiling water. Okay! Ready?

12 to 14 500ml jars
8 to 12 hours - 2 1/2 to 3 hours working

8 quarts plum tomatoes
pickling salt
6 large onions (red are good if you can get them)
2 to 3 heads of garlic
450 grams (1 pound) Jalapeño chiles
6 large mild green chiles (peppers)
2 1/2 cups minced cilantro
1/4 cup cumin seed, ground
1 156ml (5 1/2 ounce) can tomato paste
PER JAR 3 tablespoons lime juice

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the tomatoes by dropping them in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. You will need to do them in batches. Transfer the tomatoes to a sink or tub filled with cold water.

Peel the tomatoes, and chop them coarsely. Layer them in a large strainer - such as comes in a set for cooking spaghetti - with the salt. I try to use about 4 tablespoons, but a bit more is okay. Much of it will run out with the water. Let the tomatoes drain for several hours to overnight, in a cool spot (but not in the fridge.) Don't forget to keep them a little raised from the bottom of whatever pot you strain them into, so they are not sitting in their own water.

When you are ready to proceed, put the canning jars into a large canner with water to cover them by one inch at least, and bring to a boil. Boil the jars for 10 minutes. If your water is very hard, add a shot of vinegar to the water to prevent lime build-up on the jars.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions, de-stem and deseed the Jalapeños (wear gloves!) and other green peppers, and peel and mince the garlic. Squeeze the juice from the limes and set it aside.

Take the strained tomatoes, and chop them to the texture you would like - a food processor is fine for this. Mix them with the chopped onions, garlic, and chiles in a large canning kettle or other large, deep pot. Chop the cilantro and mix it in, along with the ground cumin seed.

Mix the tomato paste with a cupful of the salsa, until it is lump-free. Mix it into the pot of salsa. Taste the salsa, and add some salt if you think it needs some more. Bring the salsa to a boil.

Lift the sterilized jars from the boiling water bath and empty them. Half should be emptied into the sink, and half should be emptied back into the pot to keep the boiling water level up.

Add three tablespoons of lime juice to each jar. Fill each jar with salsa, to within 1 cm of the rims. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel dipped in the boiling water, and seal according the manufacturers directions - i.e by using lids and rims boiled for 5 minutes.

Return the jars to the boiling water bath and boil them for 20 minutes, well covered in water. It will most likely be necessary to do this in 2 batches; put as many into the canner as will fit, when they come out put in the next batch of jars to be sterilized while you fill the first set. Take them out and fill them as the first set of filled jars is being processed.

Remove from the water bath, allow to cool, check seals and label the jars with the date and batch number.


Well, that little trip lasted a bit longer than expected due to unforseen family complications. However, I'm now home and I have quite a lot to post. I hope to be getting it all up in the next few days.

Thursday, 20 September 2007


My union has negotiated some vacation time, so we're off for a week of camping. I'll be back towards the end of next week.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Turkish Red Cabbage & Carrot Salad

I adapted this recipe from here, and it's been a favourite ever since. I love the colours, and the crunchy texture and sweet-sour flavours are terrific.

Sumac can be found at middle-eastern groceries. It is in fact a relative of the sumac that grows all over Ontario. Keep your sumac well-sealed in the freezer, as it loses its' flavour quickly otherwise. If you can't find sumac, add a little more lemon juice and a 1/4 teaspoon or so of lemon zest.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Turkish Red Cabbage and Carrot Salad3 cups shredded red cabbage
2 medium-large carrots, grated (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup raisins (or dried cranberries)
1/4 cup mined parsley or chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
OR 1 teaspoon dried dillweed
1 teaspoon sumac

the juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Finely shred the red cabbage, discarding any thick, tough stem pieces. Peel and grate the carrot. Mince the herbs. If you can get both parsley and chives, so much the better.

Mix the vegetables in a salad bowl with the herbs and seasonings. Sprinkle the lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil over the salad. Toss and let rest for 1/2 hour to 1 hour before serving.

A Visit to New Hamburg Fall Fair

I thought I would kill two birds with one stone this Saturday, and go to the New Hamburg Farmers' Market, and the New Hamburg fall fair. Alas, it turned out that I wasn't paying attention; the previous week had been the last week for the farmers' market.

We did go to the Fall Fair.

You enter the fair through the Arena, where all the usual displays are arrayed.

We must be rather jaded - we all looked at the big pumpkins, and said "Huh. We've seen bigger pumpkins than that." Yeah, yeah. Big talk. You'll notice none of us have any entered. But still. We've seen bigger pumpkins than that.

We went with a friend and her son, and we all agreed that we're the kind of people who get a thrill out of seeing three beans on a plate. We were not disappointed. There was a large display of vegetable entries.

Corn on the cob. The Indian corn on the top shelf had been entered under the heading of "longest cob of corn", and I have to say, they were quite impressive - all of them being well over a foot long.

There was a display of homemade wines - not a category I have seen before.

Pickles and preserves.

A closer look at the pumpkins.

Childrens' baking entry; theme cakes. As usual, some very cute and creative entries.

The prizewinning dried corn and grains.

When we were done inside, we headed out. There was a mini-farm with young animals set up to appeal particularly to children, although there were plenty of adults hanging around and saying "awwwww" too.

The New Hamburg fair seems to have a lot of emphasis on horses, particularly draft horses. At least that seemed to be theme while we were passing through.

We watched a few horses being put through their paces.

Then we moved on to the cows. Oh look, hairy hippie cows. Yeah, I know they're officially highland cattle, but they'll always be hairy hippie cows to me.

A close up of a red-haired Scotsman, wild locks blowing romantically in the breeze. At least there was no kilt involved, or the accumulation of clichés would have been awful.

The beauty-queen contestants get groomed to within an inch of their lives. We couldn't hang around; the odour of hairspray was a bit overwhelming, even outside.

We paid a final visit to the sheep-pen then wandered off in search of lunch and vegetables, having resisted the lure of home-made pies in the arena.